Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Imitation, Innovation, and My Second Personal Vision Board

I have talked about numerous parts of what would be my second personal vision board--bread, the golden apple, the cornucopia.  There are three parts that remain.  I was not sure when I would get back to it, but I heard a story while driving to pick up my 13 year old from boychoir last night that inspired me to bring it out now.  

The program is a program that I hear on the local public radio station.  The program is called The Story.  The stories are long discussion format like some other public radio programs.  But the discussion is usually between the host and one person at a time.  There is no call in.  And each night there is usually a theme.  I'm not sure what the overall theme was last night, but at the conclusion of the program they were reflecting on some feedback they had received on a story about plagiarism.  Being a college professor and serving on or as chair of numerous academic committee, I think about plagiarism a lot.  It, for obvious reasons, has many very negative connotations.

However, the discussion about the piece on plagiarism also spent some time reviewing the concept of imitation in general.  And they closed with a thought for which I hav found a link that attributes it to jazz trumpet player Clark Terry: that the learning cycles can be summarized in three words: Imitate. Assimilate.  Innovate.  

That is a pretty cool thought.  The key is that the first step really is imitation.  Of course, I must begin by saying that this does not in any way, shape, or form excuse plagiarism.  But there are lots of ways in which I have imitated.  Prayer.  Lecturing style.  Overall approach to research. Playing bass.  Writing music.  Parenting.  The list goes on.  The key is that I have learned from others and whether I imitate consciously or subconsciously, I know that a lot of what I have done over time is to take the best of what I have observed and tried to make it mine.  It is just that I don't have to put in a footnote when I imitate through my parenting.

The assimilation.  Going along with the prayer theme, it is taking the ideas and making them an ingrained part of my way of living.  Taking the teaching, it is making an approach to leading a lecture or helping others to develop their faith (in Sunday school) or professional opinion of economic or cost-effectiveness (in my day job) a part of what I always do.  Yes, I am imitating at first because I learned from my teachers from elementary school to graduate school what are some of the best ways to present information.  However, I then assimilate and make each part a part of me.

Finally, I innovate.  Once I am comfortable using whatever the approach is in writing, playing, parenting, teaching, or praying (or anything else that I have learned from others), then I begin to make up my own themes.  I change things a bit.  I experiment.  I try things on for size.  Eventually, what was a shadow of what my mentors had done and then became an integrated part of my persona becomes truly mine as I find ways to bring it alive that are unique to my interest.

Now, unlike my love of the kitchen that could be usefully summarized in bread or my love of teaching that could be usefully summarized in a golden apple or the abundance with which I have been blessed that could be summarized with a cornucopia, it is not so obvious how one would summarize the learning process that is encapsulated by the three words: imitate, assimilate, innovate.  

However, I draw on The Hunger Games for some inspiration here.  Perhaps that is just a function of what I read this summer, and I certainly would not have been able to call on this image before this summer, but I like the mockingjay.  Why?  Well, think of the third book.  It is when Katniss who has really been led into things earlier on and has tried to imitate (listening to Haymitch) and then assimilated (taking what Haymitch said and acting on her own decisions) truly comes into her own and innovates.  It also fits quite well with a description of the mockingjay that appeared in the second book, Catching Fire on pages 91 and 92 of the hardback version.  I will close with that as I imagine having a mockingjay sitting atop the cornucopia on my virtual vision board.

“The jabberjays were mutations, genetically enhanced make birds created by the capitol as weapons to spy on rebels in the districts.  They could remember and repeat long passages on human speech, so they were sent into rebel areas to capture our words and return them to the Capital.  The rebels caught on and turned them against the Capitol by sending them home loaded with lies.  When this was discovered, the jabberjays were left to die.  In a few years they became extinct in the wild, but not before they had mated with female mockingbirds, creating an entirely new species.

 “But mockingjays were never a weapon,” said Madge.  “They’re just songbirds.  Right?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.  But it’s not true.  A mockingbird is just a songbird.  A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist.  They hadn’t counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adapt to the wild, to pass on its genetic doe, to thrive in a new form.  They hadn’t anticipated its will to live.

Now, as I trudge through the snow, I see the mockingjays hopping about on branches as they pick up on other birds’ melodies, replicate them, and then transform them into something new.  As always, they remind me of Rue.  I think of the dream I had the last night on the train, where I followed her in mockingjay form.  I wish I could have stayed asleep just a bit longer and found out where she was trying to take me.

No comments:

Post a Comment